What do songwriters Sylvie Paquette and Steve Veilleux have in common? They both have put words in music. Except in their case, the words were those of Anne Hébert and Gérald Godin, just like Les douze hommes rapaillés and Chloé Ste-Marie have done for Gaston Miron. But the comparison ends here.
Last March, Kaïn’s singer took a break from his popular band to dive head first into the release of an homage to the politically active and outspoken poet, the late Gérald Godin, a magnificent opus titled T’en souviens-tu Godin?, a one of a kind outlet for Veilleux who created, in collaboration with his partner in crime Davy Gallant, sonic universes for a dozen selected poems.
As for Paquette, this week’s release of her Terres originelles is the result of four years’ work, a bold gambit of admiring sonic paintings inspired by the collections of poetry written by Anne Hébert between 1942 and 1997, an warm, serene and celestial album created alongside producers Yves Desrosiers and Philippe Brault.
In both cases, the motivation was a duty of remembrance. But beyond that, both artists have created major musical milestones in their respective careers.
“Singing and poetry have always gone hand in hand, says Paquette. Léo Ferré did it with Aragon. I’ve always done lyrics-based music and I’ve worked with people like Jean Fauque (Alain Bashung) and Daniel Bélanger, authors that are very close to their lyrics, but taking on Anne Hébert was a completely different adventure.”
This adventure took her to Kamouraska, the Québec region that was so beloved by the poetess: “I paid my respects on her grave, went snowshoeing on her land. It’s an intimate encounter with her poetry, free, kind of like prose, I had to let go completely, confides Paquette, I did not adapt her poetry in any kind of way, although I did create choruses, sometimes, but only by using a stanza or a few lines and repeating them. I approached it with utmost respect. We wanted something that showed a lot of restraint and where the voice was front and centre. Even in the final mixdown, there are no effects on the voice, but I stayed very true to the folk ethos I’ve been championing for years.”
As for Steve Veilleux, he admits it outright: “It was a creative process that is completely different from what I usually do. I stumbled upon Godin’s oeuvre and simply devoured everything I found: his poetry, his biography, his politics, all of it just captivated me. That’s why, ultimately, I decided to turn it into a musical essay. Of course I was totally outside of my comfort zone, but I was also totally inspired. I found myself a lot in this project, through musical exploration, by revisiting the way I write music because of such beautiful yet in your face images.”
“What I seek, above all, are melodies. Obviously, lyrics are a song’s soul, but the melodies have to be strong and accessible. Godin uses a very percussive language, it’s in your face, unpredictable, he was poetry’s black sheep. He uses joual, he doesn’t mince his words and doesn’t shy away from using swear words in his writing. He didn’t pussyfoot and was utterly proud of his culture.”
Michel Faubert is the one who offered Sylvie Paquette her first collection of poems by Anne Hébert, a book published in 1942 and entitled Les songes en équilibre (very loosely: balancing daydreams). Out of this book, the poem entitled Marine found its way into the final selection of 13 songs selected by Paquette as a magnificent vocal duet. “We’d never sung together, we were acquaintances. I was looking for someone who inhabits words and Michel is a raconteur. I suggested this duet over email and he replied seconds later saying: What a beautiful gift! Turns out he was just reading Kamouraska and he freaked out! I’m very pleased with the result, we sang facing each other, it was quite an intense studio experience.”
Veilleux too couldn’t be happier with the result: “Recording this album to me was like a rejuvenating experience, we did not set any limits, musically, and it reminded me of how simple and relaxing going into a recording studio can be. The songs a rock and all over the place at times, but other times, they are very sparse and vulnerable. The words dictated what the music should be. We practically did the whole album between just the two of us. In the end, what mattered was that not just Godin’s protest spirit came through, but also his touching side.”
The approach for Terres originelles was quite different: “The three of us were never together at the same time, explains Paquette, Yves and Philippe didn’t work as a duo. Most times, I would get things going with Yves, just guitar and voice, and later Philippe would come in and add colours and atmospheres. That’s how the whole album was done, never the three of us at the same time. In any case, Yves is a loner, he needs to be in his bubble. We need to be bothered, jostled a little when creating music. Take Rouler dans des ravins de fatigue, for example: I wrote the music and Philippe came in and put a light beat to it, and it worked with the rather heavy subject matter.”
“I enjoyed this kind of calm and serene exploration process so much, confides Veilleux, that I can’t even imagine working any other from now on. I would come out of the studio in ecstasy. Words should always dictate the way the music is played. They are just fragments of his body or work, but there were key ones that I absolutely wanted to be on the Album, such as Liberté surveillée and Tango de Montréal. His poetry put a spell on me, how dearly we miss someone like Gérald Godin!”